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Tourism groups’ merger gives industry more strength and unity

Call it strength in numbers, or strength in unity.

“With the challenges that the tourism industry has faced over the past several years, our industry has had to come together to better vocalize the importance of tourism to Arizona’s economy,” says Debbie Johnson, a longtime advocate of Arizona tourism. “In doing so, it became evidently clear that the Arizona Tourism Alliance and the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association had virtually the same missions and goals and could have a stronger, more cohesive voice if united; so the conversations of mergers began amongst the two organization’s leadership.”

Those conversations led to the two groups combining forces early in 2012 to form the Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association (AzLTA), with Johnson leading the charge as the group’s president and CEO. The new organization has a combined membership of almost 500 and has helped broaden the reach and scope of the tourism industry’s branding and message.

“Arizona must continue to think globally as well as act locally,” says Doug Yonko, executive vice president of communications for Hensley Beverage Co. and chairman of AzLTA’s board. “We are a premiere destination. However, competition for tourism dollars is fierce so we must stand together by working closely with the private and public sector and our legislature to ensure continued growth and increased market share of the tourism dollar.”

AzLTA’s leaders say the new supergroup will give the tourism industry the ability to speak from one unified voice, particularly on the legislative front, which will strengthen the industry.

“AzLTA unites hoteliers with key segments of the tourism industry — including Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, many state convention bureaus, private business and the Arizona Office of Tourism,” Yonko says. “The economic impact of the tourism industry affects most businesses at some level and — very importantly — our state tax revenue stream. The tourism and hospitality industry represents the second leading driver of our state’s economy, subsequently it is crucial that the business community and our legislature continue to recognize and support this pillar of our economy.”

Along those lines, the goal of the AzLTA is to work with and educate state legislators, offering training to those in the industry through workshops and seminars, and uniting those industries that are impacted by tourism. Its specific mission, Johnson says, is “to unify, protect, educate and promote the interests of the Arizona lodging and tourism industry.

“This mission is a combination of the missions of the former two groups, which were similar in structure and tone prior to the merger, but now have greater value after the merger,” she says. “AzLTA, and the Super PAC that the organization recently created, is now recognized as one of the leading industry voices in the state.”

AzLTA PAC is the state’s 25th Super Political Action Committee (PAC), which is expected to send a message to lawmakers about the strength and impact of tourism across the state. A Super PAC requires a minimum of 500 people to donate a minimum of $10 each. The funds can then be used to show support for candidates who understand the value of tourism to Arizona.

“AzLTA will have a seat at the table where policy is shaped that could directly or indirectly impact our ability to attract visitors and businesses to our state,” Johnson says. “It will ultimately raise the awareness that Arizona tourism is the catalyst to economic development,  job creation and tax revenue generation that positively impacts every Arizona resident.”